Today on Trail

What if Bill Bryson could actually hike?

Yesterday I promised you some exciting news about the futch, and to clarify I meant this futch, not that futch. Specifically the futch of Today in Tabs, which is this: Tabs Season X will continue through mid-June and then Today in Tabs will go on hiatus for the rest of 2024 because instead I will be writing:

A Very Special Newsletter Miniseries Called “Today on Trail

Starting July 2nd, my oldest son Mica and I will hike the Appalachian Trail southbound from Mt. Katahdin here in Maine all the way to Springer Mountain in Georgia, if all goes as planned. The A.T. is a continuous footpath that runs about 2,200 miles along the U.S. East Coast’s Appalachian mountain range, and hiking the whole thing generally takes between four and six months, so roughly July through December.

I don’t have the financial wherewithal to simply take six months off with no income, and I wouldn’t want to stop writing for that long either. But obviously walking in the woods for eight to ten hours a day will make it impossible to keep up with the internet in the fashion to which we’re all accustomed, so Tabs has to pause.

But walking is already a big part of my creative process, and on a long hike it’s common for me to find myself organizing an essay in my head. I have a little six ounce folding keyboard and my phone, so I can still write, even in a tent or a lean-to. “What if,” I thought, “I wrote a newsletter from the trail about whatever happens in my head while I’m hiking it?” The name “Today on Trail” seemed like a no-brainer, although to be clear it will not be daily. It exists right now, barely, and you can subscribe here:

Me and Mica finishing Olympic National Park’s Hoh River Trail in the rain, in 2019.

Let’s do an imaginary Q&A for the Qs I would expect you to have, and then the comments will be open for any others.

Why am I doing this?

Growing up outdoorsy in New England, I’ve always been aware of the A.T. as a kind of semi-mythical Giant Achievement in Hiking, and I considered trying to do it for years. I hiked the longest stretch of the trail that doesn’t cross a paved road, Maine’s hundred mile wilderness, in the summer of 2020 and that experience convinced me I wouldn’t want to do the whole trail by myself.

My son Mica graduates from college in a few weeks, and he plans to go overseas indefinitely after that. But after school ends he didn’t really have anything important going on, and the overseas visa could start any time. Mica also just happens to be the only person in the world that I know I could do this hike with. So my wife asked him if there was anything that would keep him in this country after graduation, and he said “no, absolutely not,” and then she said “what about hiking the A.T. with your Dad?” and he said “Oh, yeah of course I’d do that.”

Some opportunities only come along once in your whole life, and this feels like one of them. So I considered whether I think I can write a newsletter on trail (yes!), how many people need to be willing to pay me for it (a pretty reasonable number, I hope!), and maybe the hardest question: am I willing to be away from the rest of my family for five or six months (a reluctant yes?) and decided on balance: let’s go for it.

What will the newsletter be like?

There’s a ton of “hiking content” online, and I don’t know how much I can add to that in terms of gear talk, logistics, trail details, etc. I imagine there will be a little of that, but it’s definitely not going to be a straight-up trail diary.

As I said above, I’m thinking of it as a chronicle of what happens in my brain on a five month hike. Possibly an alfresco memoir? Maybe some fiction? The tagline is “A Work in Progress” and that’s very much what it will be—I’m going to find out what it is along with you. If you want a one-sentence pitch, and I can be a little arrogant for a moment, it would be something like: “What if Bill Bryson could actually hike?”

So rather than nail down the content, my plans are mostly structural:

  • I will write for at least one hour every day (it will almost certainly be more than that, I’m just trying to set a reasonable minimum) and

  • I will post at least twice a week.

The trail passes near or through a town every few days, so both of these seem manageable. The days the newsletter appears in your inbox might vary, but again, we’ll find out what works together. I’m currently planning to do at least one essay a week and at least one other kind of post, which might be a trail diary, or an interview, or some fiction? Maybe some audio? Another essay? Who can say! It’s an adventure!

Will Today on Trail be free?

Utimately, ToT will probably be mostly paid, but signing up is free right now and I’m not planning to put up the payment options for a little while yet. I’m also not sure what it will cost yet—I’m thinking about just making it an annual-only subscription that will be a single price for the entire run of the newsletter and not renew unless or until I do this on another trail sometime in the future. If you’re intrigued at all, please sign up for free now and we’ll figure it out.

What will happen to my paid Tabs subscription?

At the beginning of July I’ll pause billing on all of the paid Tabs subscriptions. So you won’t be billed again after that until January 2025 at the earliest. If and when I resume those subscriptions, you’ll still have however much time remaining until your next billing date that you had as of July. So if your annual subscription renews in August, it would renew in February 2025 instead, for example.

Today on Trail is different enough from Tabs that I didn’t want to just assume everyone here wants to come along with me to the new project, although I hope you all will. So the subscription lists and paid subscriptions will be completely separate.

Will Tabs return in 2025?

The default answer is yes. It’s not like I have some other job to pick up when I get back and recover from the hideous post-trail depression I plan to spiral into. I don’t have any reason to think I won’t resume Tabs. But like everything, the most honest answer is we’ll see! Many things can change. Maybe I sell a book! Maybe I get eaten by a bear! Life is full of surprises.

Am I just doing this to once again avoid writing Tabs during a Donald Trump election cycle?

Not intentionally, no. Although when I realized that would be the result, I was not unhappy about it.

Mica climbing Mt. Washington’s Huntington Ravine, Fall 2023.

I am low-key a little terrified, because 2024 feels like a precarious moment to suspend a newsletter project that is miraculously paying my bills in the face of the ongoing collapse of internet media and spin up an even less plausible one. But I’ve started over repeatedly in my life, and never regretted it. If there’s a chance to have this adventure with my oldest kid, I have to try.

If you read Tabs solely for the links and internet goss, well, you’ll have three more months to enjoy that and then I can recommend some excellent replacements for the rest of the year. But if you like my writing at all, especially the rare times I bust out a whole essay, I think you’ll really like Today on Trail. And if you like my writing and you have an interest in the outdoors, this is gonna be awesome for us both.

Thank you for reading all this! Please subscribe! The comments are open.

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